Molibeli spared jail time

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. . . ordered to reverse DCP Lebajoa and others’ promotions

Mohalenyane Phakela

POLICE Commissioner, Holomo Molibeli, has been spared jail time. He has however, been ordered to reverse the 2018 promotions of Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Beleme Lebajoa, and 170 other police officers.

This after the High Court threw out a contempt of court application which had been filed against him by the Lesotho Police Staff Association (LEPOSA).

The police union had petitioned the court to find Commissioner Molibeli guilty of contempt of court for his failure to reverse the 2018 police promotions which were nullified by Judge Molefi Makara in June this year.

However, the same judge spared the police boss’ blushes on Tuesday. Justice Makara ruled that although Commissioner Molibeli was wrong for failing to reverse the promotions, he ought to be given the benefit of doubt in the matter because he had been ill-advised by the force’s legal department.

The judge blasted the police’s legal department for being unprofessional and expressed doubts about its integrity.

Justice Molefi Makara had on 17 June 2021 issued two orders reversing the April 2020 promotions of the 171 police officers. The first order reversed promotions of 44 senior officers while the other one nullified the 127 promotions of junior officers.

This after LEPOSA had on 27 and 30 April 2020 filed two applications, challenging the aforementioned promotions.

These included the promotion of DCP Lebajoa.

DCP Lebajoa was in 2018 promoted to the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP). He had been an Inspector. He skipped the ranks of Senior Inspector, Superintendent and Senior Superintendent. His 2018 promotion was challenged by LEPOSA. While the matter was pending before the now retired Justice Semapo Peete, he was again promoted to Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police (SACP) in 2020.

In June this year, Commissioner Molibeli again promoted him to DCP and this prompted LEPOSA to go back to court to challenge his and other promotions.

On 17 June 2021, Justice Makara nullified the promotions on grounds that Commissioner Molibeli had effected them in violation of the laws that govern the police service. These are the Police Service Act of 1998 and the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (Administration) Regulations of 2003.

The net effect of the ruling was that the affected police officers had to go back to the ranks they held before the promotions. They also had to pay back the extra monies they had earned as a result of the illegal promotions.

However, Commissioner Molibeli failed to reverse the promotions, resulting in filing the contempt of court application earlier this week.

LEPOSA lawyer, Vuyani ‘Mone, pleaded with Justice Makara to jail Commissioner Molibeli for failing to implement the court’s ruling.

However, the police chief’s lawyer, Makhele Sekati, counter-argued that Commissioner Molibeli was not at fault because he had been ill-advised by the force’s legal department. He however, did not explain how Commissioner Molibeli had been ill-advised. This publication did not get to see the heads of argument filed by both parties which would have shed light on what had actually transpired after Justice Makara’s June 2021 ruling nullifying the promotions.

Justice Makara, who said he had read the heads of arguments, then ruled that although Commissioner Molibeli was in the wrong, he ought to be forgiven because he had been misled by his legal officers.

“From a layman’s perspective, a person who is guilty of contempt should be jailed but we have to look at the matter from a technical sense,” Justice Makara said.

“The court has delicately applied its mind on the submissions made by the Attorney General’s office, that the Commissioner has not implemented the (June court) order (reversing the promotions) because of the interpretation he was given by the lawyers in his legal division. He believed in good faith that his legal division was providing an accurate and authentic interpretation of the order.

“The court finds it regrettable, unprofessional and unfortunate for people trained in the law and in the ethical values of law and justice to mislead the Commissioner. “This introduces an element of doubt in their own professional integrity as lawyers and their inclination to encourage the undermining of the rule of law. The court finds this pathetic, especially where this is a simple case in which other citizens profusely lament that their rights to equality and fairness were violated.

“In the light of the destructive and unlearned advice given to the Commissioner, would it be sound in law to hold him guilty as charged? It must be recorded that one of the worst acts that a subordinate can do to a superior is to mislead him since that would be a recipe for disaster and compromise the standing and bona fides of the official so advised.

“In the circumstances, the court reaches the conclusion that this is a typical case where the Commissioner is a victim of wrong advice which he might have believed to be correct. Thus, he deserves the benefit of doubt. The application is disallowed,” Justice Makara ruled.

He however, said his order reversing the promotions was straightforward and should therefore be followed.

Should this happen, DCP Mokete would have to revert to his pre- 2018 promotion rank of Inspector.

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